Home History Distorted Truth: The Legacy of George Gordon Meade

Distorted Truth: The Legacy of George Gordon Meade

by Enochadmin

Regardless of the crucial function Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade performed within the Civil Conflict, his historic legacy sometimes downplays or ignores his success on the battlefields upon which he bettered the Confederacy’s legendary Common Robert E. Lee. An clever, hard-working, and brave commander, Meade was wounded twice on the June 1862 Battle of Glendale, throughout the Seven Days Marketing campaign, and later within the 12 months he was within the thick of the combating at Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. After his rapid predecessor accountable for the Military of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, was humiliated on the Might 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville—spurring Lee to invade Pennsylvania—President Abraham Lincoln virtually actually “dumped” military command in Meade’s lap—solely three days earlier than Union and Accomplice armies collided on the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade, nevertheless, would show he was as much as the problem, main the Union victory over Lee at Gettysburg.

Meade remained accountable for the Military of the Potomac by the top of the battle, combating in all its main battles throughout the 1864 Overland Marketing campaign, on the Siege of Petersburg, and, lastly, victory at Appomattox. Given such notable accomplishments, why is Meade not higher recognized and revered? Maybe most important have been the calculated efforts of Union Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles and his subordinates to strip him of credit score for defeating Lee at Gettysburg—a scheme magnified by anguish that Meade had missed a golden alternative to destroy Lee’s military with a cautious post-battle pursuit because the Confederates retreated to Virginia. Furthermore, the choice by Union Military commander-in-chief Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to ascertain his headquarters with Meade’s military on the outset of the Overland Marketing campaign—Grant thereby taking direct operational in addition to strategic management of the Military of the Potomac in 1864 and 1865—inevitably forged the impression that Meade was serving merely as a figurehead.

George Meade (Library of Congress)

The seed for Meade’s adversity was planted on July 2, 1863—Gettysburg’s second day—when he made an enduring enemy of his third Corps commander, Sickles, the disgraced however nonetheless influential congressman from New York. Disliking the contour of the land alongside Cemetery Ridge that Meade had assigned the third Corps to defend, Sickles marched his males to what he believed was higher floor three-quarters of a mile in entrance of the remainder of Meade’s line of defense. By doing so, Sickles positioned the Military of the Potomac in nice peril, as his remoted corps now had each flanks unsecured, and his advance additionally meant that Little Spherical Prime—crucial floor on the Union’s left flank—was unprotected.

Often called “Outdated Snapping Turtle” for his customary dour look and unstable mood, Meade rebuked Sickles for the insubordination. However earlier than Sickles might even take into account retracing his steps, Confederates in Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s Corps attacked and the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield have been embroiled in livid combating. Meade didn’t hesitate to reply, and gaps have been plugged at a number of key factors. Regardless of resilient Accomplice pushes throughout the southern finish of the battlefield, the Federals succeeded in stopping a Insurgent breakthrough.

Famously, Sickles would quickly be out of the combating, as he was struck in the suitable leg close to the Trostle Farm by a Accomplice cannonball, necessitating its amputation.

Earlier than Gettysburg, Meade, an 1835 graduate of the U.S. Navy Academy, was comparatively unknown. Out of the blue he was a nationwide hero, lauded in newspapers throughout the North for delivering an excellent Union victory. Simply 11 days later, nevertheless, the platitudes had turned principally to outrage. Meade was being pilloried for permitting Lee’s battered and retreating military to recross the Potomac River to Virginia on July 14. It later turned recognized that Lincoln was himself distraught at Meade’s “hesitant” pursuit of Lee and had composed a crucial letter to the final that he determined to maintain in his desk.

Meade could be additional criticized later within the 12 months for the end result of the Mine Run Marketing campaign, primarily a bloody stalemate that successfully concluded the 1863 marketing campaign season in Virginia. In the meantime, as he recuperated in Washington, the one-legged Sickles instructed as many as he might—together with the president—that he had been the true hero of Gettysburg and that his unapproved advance had in the end spoiled Lee’s battle plans, thereby saving the Military of the Potomac from destruction.

When Meade denied a request by Sickles to return to command, Sickles sought revenge. In February 1864, he went earlier than the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Conflict, a extremely influential committee dominated by Radical Republicans, and gave distorted testimony that Meade had dealt with the military ineptly at Gettysburg—that the Union military had gained an awesome victory regardless of Meade. Notably, Sickles alleged that on the battle’s second day Meade had been a coward, desperate to retreat reasonably than struggle.

Grant and Meade within the Wilderness. (Web Archive Guide)

Main Common Abner Doubleday supported Sickles’ egregious claims by testifing that Meade had performed favorites in command assignments. Doubleday specifically was bitter that Meade had ignored military seniority and never promoted him to command of the first Corps after its commander, Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, was killed early on July 1—as a substitute selecting Maj. Gen. John Newton as Reynolds’ alternative.

It was no secret that the Joint Committee’s Radical Republicans desperately needed “Preventing Joe” Hooker again accountable for the Military of the Potomac. The committee’s leaders, Chairman Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan, demanded Lincoln dismiss Meade even earlier than he had a possibility to testify.

On March 6, 1864, Meade’s concern for the Sickles-led harm to his fame was obvious in a letter to his spouse, Margaret:

After I reached Washington, I used to be drastically shocked to seek out the entire city speaking of sure grave prices of Generals Sickles and Doubleday, that had been made towards me of their testimony earlier than the Committee on the Conduct of the Conflict….Mr. [Edwin M.] Stanton [Secretary of War] instructed me…there was and had been a lot stress.…to get Hooker again in command…however there was no probability of their succeeding….The one evil that may result’s the spreading over the nation of sure mysterious whisperings of dreadful deficiencies on my half, the reality regarding which is able to by no means attain the thousandth a part of those that hear the lies….It’s a melancholy state of affairs…when individuals like Sickles and Doubleday can, by distorting and twisting info, and giving a false coloring, induce the press and public…to remove the character of a person who as much as that point had stood excessive of their estimation.

Sickles elevated his assault on Meade when he (or a detailed affiliate) penned an nameless article by “Historicus” within the March 12, 1864, version of The New York Herald, the nation’s largest newspaper. Historicus condemned Meade’s dealing with of Gettysburg whereas praising the courageous and good Sickles. The article claimed Meade had ordered his chief of workers, Maj. Gen. Dan Butterfield, to arrange an order of retreat on July 2, the battle’s second day. The Historicus piece set off a firestorm, and tales of Meade’s alleged inadequacies appeared in papers nationwide.

Meade was a proud Philadelphian, and was infuriated having his public standing shredded by Sickles, whom he thought-about a scoundrel. Outraged by the Historicus article, the Military of the Potomac commander wrote to the Conflict Division on March 15, 1864, requesting an investigation:

For the previous fortnight the general public press of the entire nation has been teeming with articles, all having for his or her object assaults upon my fame as an officer, and tending to throw discredit on my operations at Gettysburg.…The prominence given to Common Sickles’ operations within the enclosed communication, the labored argument to show his common sense and my failings, all lead me to the conclusion he’s both straight or not directly the writer….Because the communication accommodates so many statements prejudicial to my fame, I ask that the Division verify whether or not Common Sickles has licensed or endorses this communication and within the occasion of his replying within the affirmative I request of the President of the U.S. a court docket of inquiry that the entire topic could also be totally investigated and the reality made recognized.

Meade’s effort to clear his title by a Conflict Division investigation was thwarted when Lincoln declined to order a Courtroom of Inquiry. The president needed Meade combating Confederates, not a fellow common, and wrote him on March 29, 1864:

The Secretary of Conflict has requested me to contemplate your request for a Courtroom of Inquiry regarding an article that appeared within the Herald. It’s fairly pure that it is best to really feel some sensibility on the topic; but I’m not impressed, nor do I believe the nation is impressed, with the idea that your honor calls for, or the general public curiosity calls for such an Inquiry. The nation is aware of that, in any respect occasions, you may have executed good providers; and I consider it agrees with me that it’s significantly better so that you can be engaged in making an attempt to do extra, than to be diverted, as you essentially could be, by a Courtroom of Inquiry.

Lincoln’s refusal to convene a army court docket meant that the investigation of Sickles’ accusations could be the one one performed by the Joint Committee. Meade monitored the continuing hearings and was dismayed when Butterfield, a detailed good friend of Sickles’ and Hooker’s, falsely testified concerning the claimed July 2 order to retreat.

Meade knowledgeable Margaret in an April 6, 1864, letter of his despair with the bias of the Joint Committee:

Common [Henry] Hunt has been as much as Washington and earlier than the Committee. He says, after questioning him concerning the well-known order of July 2, and his telling them he by no means heard of it, and from his place and relations with me he would definitely have heard of it, they went to work and…tried to get him to confess such an order may need been issued with out him figuring out something about it. This after my testimony, and that of [Generals Gouverneur] Warren, [Winfield S.] Hancock, [John] Gibbon and Hunt, evidently proves that they’re decided to convict me, regardless of testimony, and that Butterfield’s perjury is to outweigh the testimony of all others.

As he ready for the 1864 marketing campaign season, Meade nervous about how Sickles’ assaults would have an effect on his place in historical past. He entrusted a household good friend to move his sworn testimony to Margaret, telling her in an April 26, 1864, letter: “You have to maintain this non-public and sacred. If something ought to occur to me, you’ll have the technique of displaying to the world what my protection was.”

In early Might 1864, the Military of the Potomac commenced its spring marketing campaign on the Battle of the Wilderness. Grant, whom Lincoln had made lieutenant common accountable for all U.S. armies, arrange his headquarters inside strolling distance of Meade’s. As such, Grant started making strategic selections for the Military of the Potomac. Meade didn’t confront Grant over management of his military, figuring out that such infighting could be injurious to the Union trigger.

Gen. Daniel E. Sickles famously photographed along with his lacking appendage. (Library of Congress)

Because the press started writing about “Grant’s Military” and his public star pale, Meade soldiered on, working intently with Grant and doing what he might to win battles and shorten the battle. Margaret, it needs to be no shock, was sad with Grant’s ascendency over her husband.

Meade, nevertheless, defended Grant, writing her on Might 23, 1864:

I’m sorry you’ll not change your opinion of Grant, I believe you count on an excessive amount of of him. I don’t suppose he’s a really magnanimous man, however I consider he’s above any littleness, and no matter injustice is finished to me, and it’s idle to disclaim that my place is a really unjust one, I consider it isn’t intentional on his half, however arises from the drive of circumstances, and from weak point inherent in human nature which compels a person to look to his personal pursuits.

Meade’s uneasy relationship with the press turned toxic when he expelled a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter from the Military of the Potomac camp for falsely writing that he had needed to retreat after the Battle of the Wilderness. In retaliation, AOP battle correspondents banded collectively and agreed to disregard Meade and solely write articles that put him in a foul gentle. This press hostility additional darkened Meade’s fame. He poured out his frustration in a July 17, 1864, letter to Margaret.

I had a go to right now from Common Grant, who was the primary to inform me of the assault within the Occasions based mostly upon my order expelling two correspondents. Grant expressed himself very a lot aggravated on the injustice executed to me, which he stated was obtrusive, as a result of my order distinctly states that it was by his path that these males have been prohibited from remaining with the military. He acknowledged there was an evident intention to carry me accountable for all that was condemned and to reward him for all that was commendable.

The press was fast responsible Meade solely for the Battle of the Crater catastrophe on July 30, 1864. A mine had been dug beneath the Accomplice fortifications at Petersburg, stuffed with gunpowder, and spectacularly exploded beneath Brig. Gen. Stephen Elliott Jr.’s South Carolina Brigade. Union troops below ninth Corps commander Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside delayed advancing past the massive crater created by the explosion and have been savagely counterattacked by the Confederates.

On August 9, 1864, Meade wrote Margaret of his exasperation with the press:

The try and implicate me within the current fiasco was actually ridiculous. Nonetheless the general public should in time be influenced by these repeated and fixed assaults, nevertheless unfaithful and unjustifiable they could be. Have you ever ever thought that for the reason that first week after Gettysburg, now greater than a 12 months, I’ve by no means been alluded to in public journals besides to abuse and vilify me?

The Crater debacle attracted the eye of Congress, and 4 members of the Joint Committee descended on Meade’s headquarters close to Petersburg to research. It was removed from an goal inquiry. On December 20, 1864, Meade wrote Margaret:

Members of the Committee on the Conduct of the Conflict made their look to research the Mine affair. They gave me an inventory of witnesses to be referred to as, from which I noticed without delay that their object was to censure me, as all of the officers have been Burnside’s pals….I requested the committee to name earlier than them Common Hunt and Colonel Duane; these officers got here out laughing, and stated as quickly as they started to say something that was unfavorable to Burnside, they stopped them and stated that was sufficient, clearly displaying they solely needed to listen to proof of 1 sort.

The press assaults continued unabated. On October 13, 1864, The New York Impartial harshly blamed Meade for Grant’s incapability to defeat Lee:

The advance was arrested, the entire motion interrupted, the protection of a military imperiled, the plans of the marketing campaign pissed off—and all as a result of one common, whose incompetence, indecision, half-heartedness within the battle have repeatedly been demonstrated….Allow us to chasten our impatient hope of victory as long as Common Meade retains his maintain on the gallant Military of the Potomac. He holds his place by advantage of no private qualification, however in deference to a presumed, fictitious, perverted, political necessity, and who hangs upon the neck of Common Grant like an Outdated Man of the Sea whom he longs to be rid of, and who he retains solely in deference to the weak complaisance of his constitutional Commander-in-Chief.

The Impartial’s assault deeply troubled Meade, who discovered it “fiendish and malicious.” By the point he met with Grant, he was contemplating leaving the Military of the Potomac. On October 29, he wrote Margaret:

I instructed him that…I didn’t need to embarrass Mr. Lincoln, nor did I want to retain command by mere sufferance; and that, except some measures have been taken to fulfill the general public and silence the persistent rumors towards me, I ought to choose being relieved….In all profitable operations I’m ignored, and the second something went mistaken I used to be held wholly accountable.

To handle Meade’s request for a present of public assist, Grant urged Lincoln to maneuver ahead with Meade’s nomination to main common of the Common Military. Grant had proposed William Tecumseh Sherman, Phil Sheridan, and Meade on the similar time for promotion, however later requested the president to delay Meade’s promotion so he wouldn’t rank Sherman. Meade was upset when his promotion was delayed, notably as a result of Sheridan, whom he had clashed with when Sheridan was his Cavalry Corps commander, would rank him. At Grant’s request, Lincoln went ahead with Meade’s nomination, including a sweetener by post-dating it to August so Meade would rank Sheridan. He was proud of the president’s public endorsement, writing Margaret on November 25, 1864:

Common Grant instructed me that…the President…had hesitated when appointing Sheridan on the very floor of its seeming injustice to me, and…at Common Grant’s suggestion, ordered the Secretary to make out my appointment to August nineteenth, the date of the seize of the Weldon Railroad, thus making me rank Sheridan….As justice is thus lastly executed I’m happy….At one factor I’m notably gratified, and that’s at this proof of Grant’s truthfulness and sincerity….I’m happy that he’s actually and actually pleasant to me.

The Senate confirmed Meade’s nomination to main common, however that public acknowledgment of his deserves as a army chief didn’t enhance his standing with the press. He grew despondent with the unfair protection of the climactic Appomattox Marketing campaign, writing Margaret on April 10, 1865:

I’ve seen however few newspapers since this motion commenced, and I don’t need to see any extra, for they’re stuffed with falsehood, and of undue and exaggerated reward of sure people who take pains to be on the suitable aspect of reporters. Don’t fear your self about this, deal with it with contempt. It can’t be remedied, and we needs to be resigned. I don’t consider the reality ever will likely be recognized, and I’ve an awesome contempt for historical past. Solely let the battle be completed, and I returned to you and the pricey youngsters, and I will likely be happy.

Grant didn’t embody Meade, or anybody from the Military of the Potomac, within the Appomattox Courtroom Home give up assembly with Lee on the McLean Home. The newspapers ignored his function in forcing Lee’s give up whereas extolling Sheridan’s. Meade was drastically embittered on the unjust press protection, writing Margaret on April 12, 1865:

Your indignation on the exaggerated reward given to sure officers, and the ignoring of others is kind of pure. I’ve totally carried out my responsibility and have executed my fair proportion of good work simply accomplished, but when the press is set to disregard this, and the individuals decided, after 4 years’ expertise of press mendacity, to consider what the newspapers say, I don’t see there may be something for us however to submit and be resigned. Grant, I don’t take into account so legal. With Sheridan, it isn’t so. His dedication to soak up the credit score of all the things executed is so manifest as to have attracted the eye of the entire military, and the reality in time will likely be recognized.

Meade died at age 56 in 1872, with out writing a memoir or publicly rebuking Sickles’ falsehoods and distortions about Gettysburg. Sickles lived to 94 and continued to his loss of life in 1914 heralding his heroics at Gettysburg whereas disparaging Meade’s generalship. The Joint Committee’s studies on Gettysburg and the Battle of the Crater have been crucial of Meade and negatively impacted his fame. In an effort to have their ancestor’s voice heard and to stability the historic file, Meade’s son and grandson, George Meade and George Gordon Meade, revealed his letters in 1913 in The Life and Letters of Common George Gordon Meade.

Meade along with his workers in Culpeper, Virginia, 1863. (Library of Congress)

In a 1961 article, The Unusual Status of Common Meade, famous historian Edwin Coddington wrote that Sickles’ assaults on Meade “drastically contributed to an unfavorable opinion of him as a commanding common, which has persevered to today.” Coddington concluded that, “Sickles’ persistence in persevering with his feud lengthy after Meade’s loss of life in 1872 had deep and lasting results on publicists and historians of the battle,” and that “Sickles achieved a big measure of success” in his marketing campaign to sully Meade’s title.

Bruce Catton’s e book Glory Highway is however one instance of Sickles’ success at making a narrative the place some historians deny Meade credit score for his Gettysburg victory. Catton wrote that when Lincoln positioned Meade in command, the troops, “in impact…had no chief,” and that Meade gained the battle “mainly as a result of his males have been incomparably good troopers.” Historians resembling Coddington and Stephen W. Sears acknowledge of their Gettysburg books Meade’s vital and energetic function in profitable the battle. Sears wrote that Meade reacted to “Sickles’ folly” by making “two crucial, rapid-fire selections,” ordering reinforcements to assist Sickles and dispatching Brig. Gen. Gouverneur Warren to Little Spherical Prime to see if it was protected. Sears praised Meade for “anticipating the wants of his generals, then performing decisively to satisfy them.”

There are causes apart from Sickles’ vendetta that contribute to Meade not being a extra distinguished historic determine, together with his cautious pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg, Grant’s immense presence and his unfair remedy by the press. However Coddington’s scholarship exhibits the paramount purpose that Meade’s contributions are sometimes neglected was Sickles’ success in tarnishing his fame.

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